In his Holy Week message, United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer encourages all in the wider church to find joy in the risen Christ, despite social distancing.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
In a few short days, we will be preparing our hearts and minds to commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross and to celebrate his resurrection from the dead. The days that comprise Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, are among the most holy and sacred moments in our liturgical calendar.
This year is different for us. For the first time in most of our lives, we will be facing the likelihood that our sanctuaries will be empty.
For some weeks now, many of us have been exploring online worship. The coronavirus is wreaking havoc in our lives and communities. It has disrupted our work lives, our social lives, our children’s educational lives, and our worship lives.
The first Sunday that many of our churches closed up their sanctuaries and worshiped from home, I sat on my couch all day and attended worship services in six different time zones from New York to Hawaii. I joined everything from hi-tech worship with multiple camera angles, lively chat features, beautiful graphics, and tech experts working the mixer to very low-tech services with the pastor sitting in his or her living room with headphones on while doing a Zoom call with about a dozen mostly elderly people who were on Zoom for the first time. But – it was all beautiful, authentic, and – yes – worshipful. In spite of the distancing we were creating, we all felt connected.
We have done this a few times now. One of the things I am hearing from pastors is that they are gathering more people in their online services than they ever get in the sanctuary. It could well be that the Holy Spirit is using us to create a whole new mission field – and that the gospel we preach inside our sacred walls is now reaching a world hungry for something they never knew they were missing.
Which brings me to Easter.
I do understand the grief many of us will feel if and when we cannot gather together to celebrate Christ’s rising from the dead. I invite us from the place of our grief to remember that beautiful line from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Remember that Christ’s rising from the dead is our assurance that God reigns. God conquers all that seeks to separate us one from another. For I am persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature – not even the coronavirus.
Not being physically present with each other on our High Holy Day is a small price to pay for maintaining the health of the most vulnerable among us, as is conducting our shared worship experience online rather than in person.
Don’t doubt that God will hear our prayers, accept our offerings, rejoice in our praise of all that Her hands have wrought, and be moved by our coming together digitally rather than physically. God’s love abides in both the actual world and the virtual world. We are undoubtedly learning something in this shared experience that will open us up to new ways of encountering our Sacred and sharing the gospel. When this is over, and it will be over sometime, we will grieve whatever we will have lost along the way; but we can also celebrate the gift of becoming a Church more fully equipped to tell the story of God’s redeeming and transformative love.
Please, don’t let Easter be your act of defiance and refuse to accept the conditions we are all being asked to live under in order to be a better neighbor for those in danger of contracting and then perhaps suffering and dying from this horrible virus.
Please, do everything you can to distance yourself even from your worship family.
Please, take time between now and Easter to imagine and to create and execute a beautiful, meaningful, and memorable Easter celebration online that both honors our need to give thanks to the God of the risen Jesus AND invites your members and a whole new digital community to share the good news of the resurrection.
We can do this.
And we can do this in such a way that we won’t ever regret being asked to do this.
May the joy of this Easter season that is fast approaching not be dimmed or diminished by our social distancing and self-quarantining. May we all find our way in and through this and see the beauty inherent in it. And may the peace of the risen Christ be with you now and forevermore.
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ